Building for babies

This Spring the Welcome Swallows and the Willy Wagtails have both chosen to raise their families on my verandah.

The Willy Wagtails built a tidy and solid new nest, a smooth cylinder of cobwebs and grass and bodily fluids.

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The slack Swallows just re-used the old one; didn’t even shore up the crumbling structure, just did an interior makeover with more feathers.

But at least two of the Swallow babies survived and flew and still kept returning to the nest area as home base.

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When the Willy Wagtail decided hers was good enough, she sat. And sat. A rare occasion for the hyperactive Wagtail to be still long enough for me to get a photo.

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When she sat less often, I waited for the first peeps, but heard none. Compared to Swallow babies, these are quiet — just bundles of fluff and beak, huddled together in a tiny nest.

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There look to be four of them, as yet far less handsome than their dapper parents. They are all keen to be ready for a feed when a parent appears.

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The parents are kept frantically busy, catching food and returning to feed one chick at a time, putting their own beak right down the chick’s throat.

At this rate they’ll outgrow that nest very soon…

October storms

September was wet enough, but appropriately gentle.

October is delivering its rain in tropical tantrums, with sunshowers and rainbows and start-stop deluges.

This double rainbow appeared on the very first day of the month, to announce how things were going to be.

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A week later and we were treated to another fulsome beauty. Sadly, no pot of gold has ever been found by me, however hard I’ve looked.

The plants love the frequent drinks — not that they need extra encouragement to grow here. Weeds like dock are over my head already.

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This wallaby approves of the state of my ‘lawn’ at least.

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The swallow family don’t seem to mind being alternatively drenched and baked. Like me, they have to make the best of what the gods deliver…

Another day in Paradise

The end of a Spring day when the sun is still setting north of west brings the last of the light low over my ridge’s shoulder. 
It finds the far escarpment and paints it gold.

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The wallabies have been in clover — literally — as Spring has sprung with flushes of flowers on welcome plants and weeds alike.

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Birds arrive that I have not regularly seen here, to feed on blossoms and seed heads. Lorikeets hang upside-down in the callistemons, galahs waddlle through the yet unmown grass, beaks full of booty.

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Under the verandah roof the swallows are nestbuilding, perhaps even eggsitting by now, so this hopeful kookaburra keeps perching on the nearest star post.

The swallow parents divebomb his head relentlessly; he just keeps ducking. When they occasionally connect, he flinches, wobbles slightly, refluffs his feathers — and stays put.

Morning glories

Spring is here, with welcome rain freshening the creek, which had slowed and dropped alarmingly.

Having only one tank here, when I used to have four, is nerve-wracking.

Nights are still cool enough for a fire, and mornings are bright and crisp.

Not so crisp as to make me want to stay in bed, however. I am happy that the light is waking me up earlier, so sunrises are back on my radar.

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Dews are heavy of a morning, bringing endless varieties of bejewelled webbing designs.

The grand she-oaks are especially favoured, with one branch bearing an unusual flag-shaped web.

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The small Acacia Baileyana wattle that I planted only months ago had not been forgotten. 

It hasn’t flowered yet, but who needs flowers when you have strings of pearls?

Mothers’ morning — and mayhem

Soaking up the morning sun in front of my solar power shed door was this wallaby mum and her helpful joey. In between de-fleaing mum and racing around the shed, he’d return for a drink.

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She left her pouch open to the sun’s warmth and his frequent suckling. Within the pale pink pleats, is that a long nipple I see?

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In fact there were three mums and their joeys of varying ages.

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Or there were, until a randy male burst in to check out the ladies, who all took off, scattering panicked joeys as they went.

It’s definitely spring. As I write, there’s a great deal of grunting, coughing and thumping as five ready males chase a female round and round my house, under the verandah and back out, in and out of the shed, around my ute, through the orchard, around the big shed, then the small shed, back round the house… they’re all panting, it’s been going for abut 10 minutes, and they’re moving way too fast for me to take a photo.

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Now one has her cornered under my verandah; they’ve gone quiet so I do get the camera. Three other agitated males are hanging about the steps.

The pair seem to be ignoring each other for a while, then the grunting starts again — and it’s the female. Clearly, she’s saying ‘No!’ Which the blokes accept, sort of; there’s no forcing, but they keep up the chase.

And they’re off again!

Flower balm

After last weekend, my spirit was in sore need of healing. Especially as I’d spent, not just Saturday, but the past week in town standing on hard cement all day each day, offering hopeful one-liners and how-to-vote leaflets for The Greens at the pre-poll booth too.

So getting back to the Mountain was urgent.

And no, I’m not going to comment on the election results, except to say that it is imperative now that we all get more active regarding climate change if our grandchildren are not to inherit a nightmare world.

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In the hot week away, Spring had forced many early flowerings: Jasmine, May, Wisteria, Pittosporum… scents and sights as balm for my soul.

The rock orchids above the outdoor loo were truly stunning — a frothing shower of white on one clump, while the other’s slight delay gave honeysuckle varied tones.

In the early morning light, as they caught the first sunlight, they were breathtaking.

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Unfortunately the warm weather had also brought increased bushfire worries, as escaped hazard reduction burns linger uncontrolled in difficult country. 

The air was smoky anyway but on this morning it mingled with early rising mist and this newly blooming camellia glowed like a beacon before it. As with all my camellias, it is unattractively swathed in netting to keep the wallabies and roos from eating it. The camellias were all grown from cuttings from an old garden, so are especially precious.

Even a few days there helped restore my positivity before I had to go to Sydney to speak at the 350º Divestment Forum. Always a boost to see so many people passionate about acting to save our only planet.

Who needs roses?

The resident macropods have killed all my roses bushes by their perseverance in eating every shoot or bud that dares to peek through the sad grey wood of the remnants.

But they do not eat bulb leaves or flowers. I don’t know why, but I am very, very grateful, because each winter I am treated to displays like these.

The Erlicheer jonquils (above) come first, forming a perfumed bank below my now bare verandah vines. Their dense clusters are a little like roses;  I love the deep buttery depths of their cream petals.

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The tall white jonquils of a simpler, more open design are less strongly scented, while the orange-hearted yellow ones are mainly there for colour and cheeriness — and because they keep coming back each year.

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My childhood favourite was always the clumps of snowflakes, dainty white bells whose picot edges are decorated with just the right amount of green.

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Before their flowering gives a lighter touch, there’s a different charm in the strong blades of the leaves as they jostle for space around the birch tree. I ought to be separating these clumps; people say they will flower more if I do, but when a clump like this comes out it is as bountiful as I can imagine.

Spring hit

Having been away from the mountain for a few weeks with the latest book tour means that I was prepared for the worst, like bush fires, or trees blown down and across the track, when I returned.

I wasn’t prepared for the best, which is what I found.

The winter jonquils were finished, but Spring had hit with full force in that time.

The white wisteria on the verandah was making up for all those years it didn’t flower. Its graceful showers of blossoms gladden my aesthetic heart whenever I see them from my desk and its faint perfume greets me as I open the door of a morning.

Its more common cousin, the lilac wisteria, looks like it’s been out a little longer, as some flowers are tinged with brown. Nevertheless it greatly adorns the power shed/laundry building, albeit only on a band above wallaby height.

For I seem to be developing a garden of standards, where plants like this enormous banksia rose (left) are thoroughly pruned of leaves and flowers to the pruners’ heights. Even its arching stems are pulled down to be ‘tidied up’ and kept bare and brown.

The jasmine climbing on an old fence post actually looks quite cute as a topknot!

I’m enjoying these flowerings while they last, as they are always too brief. And as I still have no time for gardening, with more book talks coming up, I’m grateful they manage this spectacular Spring Show on their own.

Sandstone Spring

The walk at Lees’ Pinch Lookout in the Goulburn River National Park is only an 800m round trip. At this time of year there were more native flowers blooming than I’d see in most gardens.

Fantastic rocks and sinuous young, whitely unscribbled-on Scribbly Gums formed the settings.

Yellow predominated, but apart from the simple open faces of a Hibbertia, I didn’t know these sandstone country flowers — the pea family! My forest country has little or no shrub layer, so this richness was a treat.

Backlit beauties

It’s still as cold as winter of a morning, but the irises are heading skywards for summer.

The most proudly regal flower I know, their fistfuls of blue-green broadspears of leaves were lately joined by tall spikes of tightly furled buds, and now the topmost of these are opening.

They droop their lower lips and bare their bearded tongues, but coyly hold up veils to hide their golden eyes. The texture of these beautifully veined petals is like silk — royal silk — and the dramatic colours make this bearded iris  my favourite.

The reason why I am permitted to have such beauties boldly growing in my yard is that none of the critters find irises tasty — neither the leaves nor the flowers. This has proved the case with all my bulbs.

So I am inclined to plant more iris varieties, like these delicate frilly lilacs, as there about 300 to choose from.

But I have a niggling feeling that if I do, some animal will suddenly decide they make a worthwhile feast. It’s happened before: “Get that woman complacent, off her guard — then go for it!”

I may have to remain dependent on the tougher types, like these yellow Flag irises that are multiplying happily in a soggy depression. Their blooms are smaller and less flamboyant than their dry-footed cousins, but more open.

Spring hits

My stone fruit trees agree with the snakes; they reckon it’s Spring. The apricot declared it first, prematurely, and lost most of the blossoms in a rainy spell.

Of them all, my favourite is the Santa Rosa plum’s simple white blossoms, their stamens topped with gold, and set in softest green. The bees like them too.

I still haven’t pruned this one so will have to share the plums with the King Parrots and the Bower Birds.

Pink is a colour of so many hues they ought to be distinctly named. The peaches and the nectarine are quite different blossoms, in progress, in composition and complexity, as well as ‘pinkness’.

Which is as it should be, given that their fruit is so different.

The cherries are yet to blossom; then will come the pome fruit: the apples and the nashis. Lucky bees and birds — and lastly, possibly lucky me!

Verandah birds

Must be spring; the swallows are back. Several are squeaking and doing aerobatics out there in the yard’s airspace, but two have claimed that of the verandah.

They’re doing low flying runs from one end to the other, looping out over the lattice gate or though the still un-vine-screened ‘windows.’

Over my computer I watch them alight on the fairy light strings — just briefly. They sway a bit, peep to each other  — and they’re off again. I haven’t found where they are nesting; the old one on the verandah rafter has not even been visited, or not so I’ve seen.

I think it might be nearby and that the aerial maneouvres are to shoo off the magpies as much as to show off.

Today, I also had ‘rosellas in the mist’. The rosies haven’t been visiting the verandah, probably busy raising those green-backed babies, and I don’t know how they twigged that today I’d put out some birdseed, after about a month of none. I don’t like them to count on it.

They were a welcome splash of colour.